Phalguni Singh’s strike in the second-half made all the difference as NorthEast United FC pipped Indian Army by a goal to nil in the first quarterfinal of the 2023 Durand Cup at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Thursday.
Indian Army Heach Coach L. Anthony Ramesh made two changes to the starting lineup with Captain Bhabindra Malla Thakuri back after suspension in goal and Liton Shil in the place of Alwin E.
North East Head Coach Juan Pedro Benali made five changes to his starting lineup for the first quarterfinals of the tournament with Soraisham Dinesh Singh, Gaurav Bora, Gani Ahmed Nigam, Redeem Tlang and Konsam Phalguni Singh coming in.
North East United settled down quickly and controlled possession in the middle of the pitch. Indian Army was sticking to their plan of defending with numbers and attacking in the counterattacks. Liton Shil tested NEUFC keeper Mirshad with a long-range effort and minutes later he combined with Rahul Ramakrishnan but the latter’s effort whisked past the post.
NEUFC dominated the next exchanges and troubled the Army defence. Ibson Melo set up French midfielder Romain Philippoteaux inside the box and his curler came back off the crossbar. Rochharzela had a golden opportunity to give NEUFC the lead but the forward lashed his effort over the crossbar.
Indian Army started to press high up the field forcing mistakes out of NEUFC and started to play some attacking football. Liton Shil showed some excellent skills to dodge two defenders inside the box but his shot was saved by Mirshad. Samir Murmu had a chance to give the Army Men the lead in first-half injury time as Christopher Kamei found the forward free but his side-footed effort went wide as both teams went into the break goalless.
Juan Pedro introduced Manvir Singh and Nestor Roger in the second half and the second-half substitutes set up the first goal of the match. Nestor’s sublime cross-filed ball into the box found Manvir Singh who headed it into the path of Phalguni Singh who poked it past the goalkeeper and two rushing defenders to give NEUFC the lead.
Indian Army increased the intensity trying to come back into the game but were lacking in the final third of the pitch. On the other end, second-half substitutes Jithin M.S. and Manvir Singh made some good runs on the wings making the Army defence busy.
Army pushed hard in the final minutes to find the equalizer as the coach brought on fresh legs to inject more pace. They piled the pressure on the NEUFC defence but the Highlanders soaked all the pressure to keep their one-goal lead intact and qualify for the semifinals.
The Highlanders will now face the winner of the second quarter-final clash, which is between East Bengal and Gokulam Kerala FC, in semi-final 1, on August 29.